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Why Paris Reveals the Horror – and the Hypocrisies – of Global Terrorism
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
23 November 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com on 17 November 2015
The world was shocked and horrified at the terror inflicted upon Paris on the night of Friday the 13th, 2015, when ISIS-affiliated militants killed well over 100 civilians in one of the world’s most iconic cities. An outpouring of grief, solidarity, support and condolences came in from across the world. The tragedy, and tyranny, of such terror cannot be underestimated, but it should also be placed in its global context: namely, that the chief cause of terrorism is, in fact, terrorism, and that the chief victims are the innocent, wherever they may be.
While ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, following attacks the group undertook in previous days in both Beirut and Baghdad, it is worth remembering and reflecting on what led to the development of ISIS itself. The so-called Islamic State had its origins in the Iraq War, launched by the United States and closely supported by the United Kingdom in March of 2003. After overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a dictator once favored by the U.S., the occupying powers struggled to deal with a growing Sunni insurgency against their military occupation. In response, the U.S. helped create death squads in Iraq that further fueled a sectarian conflict between Shi’a and Sunni communities, which likewise fueled a growing regional rivalry between Shi’a Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The resulting civil war in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands, and the U.S. aligned itself even more tightly with Saudi Arabia, a country the West considers to be “moderate” in comparison to both Iran and Syria, yet it was the primary financier of al-Qaeda. The broader aim, in Iraq and across the Middle East, was to support the regional hegemony of the West’s allies – Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab dictatorships – against their chief rivals, Iran and Syria. If it meant supporting the countries that supported al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, so be it.
After all, it has never been much of a secret that the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors were the major financial backers of global terrorists; even then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted as much in a memo leaked by Wikileaks. Nor was it a secret that Saudi Arabia was responsible for more destabilization and terrorism inside Iraq than Iran, which nonetheless received most of the blame.
The Saudis and the Gulf dictatorships are U.S. and Western allies, with immense oil riches that have made them some of the largest investors and shareholders in Western banks and corporations. Iran and Syria, on the other hand, are not.
Al-Qaeda did not exist inside Iraq until after the U.S. invasion and occupation. Over the years, since the war and occupation began, the group has undergone a number of name changes and transitions. One such evolution of the group is the al-Nusra front. And another is now known as the Islamic State, or ISIS.
Origins of the Current Terror
When the Arab uprisings began against Western-supported dictators back in late 2010 and early 2011, the U.S. and its key Middle East allies faced an unprecedented crisis. The longtime French and U.S.-supported dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled his country in January of 2011. The following month, it was Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, a “family friend” of Hillary Clinton’s, who had to leave.
The Saudis and other Arab dictators were furious that the U.S. could toss one of its major regional clients aside, fearful that if Mubarak could be removed, any of them could be next. Thus, Saudi Arabia and other Arab dictators led a counter-revolution against the Arab Spring, pouring in money to support dictators they considered friendly (such as in Jordan), sending in troops to violently crush uprisings (such as in Bahrain), and arming rebel groups and terrorists against long-time foes in an effort to take advantage of the uprisings and undermine their rivals (such as in Libya).
In Libya, NATO led a war against long-time dictator Colonel Gaddafi in cooperation with many extremist rebel groups, including al-Qaeda. France and Britain were the main proponents of the war against Libya, which is hardly surprising given that both countries have hundreds of years of experience invading, occupying, colonizing and waging war against peoples of the Middle East and Africa. The war in Libya was of course a monumental disaster. While it removed a dictator long despised by both the Western powers and the Gulf Arab dictators, its ultimate effect was to plunge the country into civil war and chaos, terrorism and collapse.
Meanwhile, the weapons looted in Libya during the war began making their way into neighboring Mali and the more-distant Syria. As the arms crossed borders, so too did terror and warfare, and the French weren’t far behind. In early 2013, France launched airstrikes in Mali, leading to a ground invasion that ended in 2014. Around the same time, France also military intervened in the Central Africa Republic.
In 2013, Western powers including France, the UK and U.S. began increasing their participation in the Syrian civil war, which was already a full-blown regional proxy war pitting Syria’s government, led by Bashar al-Assad allied with Iraq and Iran, against Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey. The Gulf dictatorships armed and funded religious extremist sects to fight against the Syrian government, and were aided in this process by Western countries.
The U.S., France and Britain provided training and support to so-called “moderate” rebels inside Jordan to fight against the Syrian government. The CIA has been involved in arming and training Syrian rebels at least since 2012, in close cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The official line stressed that the CIA’s efforts aimed to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of extremist groups like al-Qaeda – yet virtually all of the rebel groups it was aiding inside Syria were hardline religious extremists.
Even as reports emerged that secular and moderate rebel groups had all but collapsed, the CIA continued to funnel more sophisticated weapons (in cooperation with Saudi allies) to these mythical “trustworthy” rebel groups. France was not far behind in delivering arms to Syrian rebel groups.
Around the same time, an internal CIA study noted that in its decades of experience arming insurgencies against regimes that the U.S. opposed, the agency’s efforts had largely failed. The main “exception” to the litany of failures, ironically, was when the CIA armed and trained the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. That “success,” as we now know, led directly to the creation of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
A Plan Backfires
With all the support given to Syrian rebel groups in the form of training and arms, those same groups quickly became enemies of the West that had armed and trained them. This includes ISIS, whose rise was fueled by U.S. involvement in both Syria and Iraq, and who is funded and supported by key U.S. allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
In fact, a report prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 predicted the rise of ISIS, noting that such al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” and added that they were being supported in their efforts to take over large parts of Syria and Iraq by “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey.” Further, the document noted, this was “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” A former Pentagon official who ran the DIA even suggested that the U.S. not only didn’t “turn a blind eye” to its support of such groups, but that “it was a willful decision.”
Here is the takeaway: the Syrian civil war, combined with the effects of the Iraq war, Libyan war and other conflicts in the region that were fueled by Western powers and their regional allies, has resulted in the massive refugee crisis Europe faces today, as millions of civilians flee the conflicts plaguing their nations while Western powers continue to pour weapons and money into them. Conflict and terror has bred further conflict and terror.
Yet when terrorism hits inside Western nations, like it did Friday in Paris, the reaction by Western governments is fairly, and tragically, typical. The Paris attacks occurred less than two months after France began launching air strikes against ISIS inside Syria, and have already prompted calls for a more aggressive strategy against ISIS in the future. So what can we expect as a result? Simply, more terror.
In short, if the objective is to oppose or prevent terrorism, the most logical strategy is not to dismantle civil liberties at home and send militaries and weapons abroad, but to stop participating in terrorism itself. This does not take away from the tragedy of the lives lost in Paris on Nov. 13, but the hypocrisy in how we acknowledge and address terrorism only enhances the tragedy. French President Francois Hollande called the attacks that killed 129 people an “act of war,” which it was. But in turn, he declared that “France will be merciless” in its response, and this is something we have yet to see.
If 200,000 dead Syrians, millions of refugees, and regional warfare spreading from state to state is considered “merciful” participation by Western nations in Middle East conflicts, the terror that might now be unleashed abroad – and the new terror that will, inevitably, once again wash ashore as a result – is indeed something to fear. To end terror, perhaps Western states should consider stopping its own participation in terror. In the very least, it would be a first step in the right direction.
A Brief Message for Canadians: Get Over It!
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
CANADIANS: Be ashamed that this newspaper column is what passes for the “public discourse” in this country: a raving, ignorant, arrogant, idiotic and racist rant telling Indigenous people to “get over it” – referring to the state-sanctioned racism, genocide, and imperialism – all of which is still taking place.
Naomi Lakritz wrote a syndicated column for the Calgary Herald on July 31, that First Nations people “need to quit blaming the past” for the circumstances in which they live, because they “have nobody to blame but themselves.” First Nations people, suggested Lakritz, need to drop “the victimization mantle” and instead, start “with the concept of individual responsibility.” In other words: get over it!
No, instead of Canadians acknowledging our history as a nation – the violent destruction, exploitation, domination, murder and discrimination exerted against the indigenous peoples of the land we invaded and occupied – this “journalist” thinks that Indigenous people should “stop blaming their history.”
They are not blaming their history: they are pointing to their history so that we may learn our own. We have a ‘shared’ history, and it has led us to the present. If we – as Canadians – actually looked at our history, and traced its evolution up to the present, we would realize that our ‘colonial’ history has now evolved into a modern state-capitalist imperial present. Our historical injustices imposed upon Indigenous peoples have modern incarnations: the system of domination, exploitation, segregation, discrimination and – yes(!) – genocide, continues today.
If we learned about all that, we might want to change it. We might develop something called ’empathy’ which can lead to something called ‘solidarity.’ These are very human characteristics, so I understand that they seem challenging to relate to in a deeply dehumanizing society; but remember, we have a shared history and we share the present. Our histories are intertwined and interdependent, and so too is our future.
We might look out at the fact that Indigenous people, not only in Canada but around the world, are rising up in rebellion against the rampant and accelerating destruction of the environment, which will lead the species to extinction. Indigenous people are on the front lines of the global struggle against human extinction and the preservation of the environment and earth we live on. If we looked at all that… we might join them.
Instead, we read articles like this gutter trash, intellectual abortion, which has been published in the Calgary Herald, The Province, Victoria Times-Colonist, and the Edmonton Journal. Interesting how in the two provinces of BC and Alberta where the Indigenous struggle against environmental destruction is currently very active, are the same provinces where this ‘article’ is published in the main newspapers for the four largest population centres… just in case you might get the ‘right’ idea.
Canada’s corporate-owned media wouldn’t want that, would it? Not when the corporation that owns all these newspapers – the largest newspaper company in Canada, Postmedia Network – has a board of directors who are reaping profits and power off of the destruction of the environment, sitting on multiple other corporate boards for banks, energy and oil companies.
Take Jane Peverett, on the board of Postmedia. Jane also sits on the boards of CIBC, the Northwest Natural Gas Company, and Encana, a major energy company. As recently as November, an Indigenous group in BC was taking action against the construction of a major pipeline project partly owned by Encana.
I’m not blaming Jane for this article; I think the author deserves the blame. But Jane – and her compatriots who sit on the boards of Canada’s highly concentrated media system – maintain and wield significant influence over a media institution which promotes articles like this as contributing to the ‘public discourse,’ when all it does is promote ignorance, propaganda, passivity, and protects the interests of the powerful who own it. It’s an institutional function. Jane is merely a cog in a much larger wheel, while Naomi Lakritz can barely be said to be cognizant.
It’s institutional propaganda. Just as the discrimination, exploitation, domination and destruction of Indigenous people is institutional to our society. For a population currently struggling against the rapacious ravaging of the environment, let alone for survival, being told to “get over it,” is another way of saying: “just die, already.” And because the struggle is against the extinction of our species if we continue along our current path, saying, “get over it,” is also like saying, “we’re all going to die, but I don’t want to do anything about it… and neither should you.”
So for those Canadians who think the article above presented a ‘reasonable’ argument (and I KNOW you exist), and for those Canadians who think Indigenous people should stop “blaming history,” take a piece of your own advice: get over it. Learn your history, know your world, find your brothers and sisters and join them in the struggle to save the species and the planet we live on.
When it comes to having people like Naomi Lakritz of the Calgary Herald lower the public discourse – or rather, maintain the public discourse at painful lows – it’s really time that we get beyond this. Naomi Lakritz also thinks pot is a “dangerous drug” and legalization a “bad idea” (because once again, “get over” history, don’t learn, just delude!), and who (shockingly) has problems with immigrants, and it’s too perfect: she wants them to “leave [their] history at home” when they come to Canada… the nation with no history, apparently.
The deranged attempts by Lakritz to support the status quo when it comes to matters of injustice cannot be left as the level of discourse in a country which boasts the title of “the most educated country in the world.” It’s time to start acting like it. So it’s time to stop listening to Lakritz and other ‘rebels against rationality’, and START listening to Indigenous people, who have a great deal that they are trying to teach us about our country, and are showing us ways that we can help change it for the better.
It’s only our fate as a people, species, and planet that is at stake… Get over it.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Media Lies, Corporate Ties, and Truth Dies? … Don’t Count on It!
I’m Here to be as Annoying as Humanly Possible to Those in Power
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Our media is a melting-pot of misinformation, bought and owned by billionaires and oligarchs, whether it is public, private, or foundation-funded. Information is integral, propaganda is power, and media is money. Control of the media leads directly to control of the minds of those who consume it, and like all patterns of consumption, it is sustained by profit, but its purpose is much deeper, more pervasive and permanent: social control.
The aim of consumption is to preserve and protect the social order as it exists, to distract a significant – or targeted – portion of the population with being concerned only about progress within the social order, about making more money, consuming more products, climbing this ever-distant and seemingly always just-out-of-reach ladder. The consumer society as we know it today was a product of the early 20th century, born out of an era of deep social unrest, where the ‘Robber Baron’ industrialists – the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, Harrimans, Astors, and Vanderbilts – created such vast fortunes, and dominated the entire economy, bought the politicians, owned the courts, and exploited the people. The poor and working class were in open rebellion, empowered with radical philosophies of resistance and revolution, organized by anarchists and socialists, immigrants and intellectuals. They threatened the entire social order. At the same time, the middle class was not yet consumer based, but rather consisting of professionals and those who earned some – even if a very minimal – benefit from the social order. They were informed through an expansion of the media, through the printing-press and ‘Muckraker journalism’, highly critical of the ruling oligarchs and their lack of concern for the welfare of mankind, yet also born of the university system which was designed to produce intellectuals and professionals concerned with reform, not revolution, concerned with preserving social order instead of overturning the social order.
This was called the Progressive Movement, and though there was critique and concern and the excesses of the ruling class, there was an equal concern about the unrest of the lower class. It was in this context that universities became reorganized and reoriented under the control of the ruling oligarchs, with industrialists and bankers sitting on their boards, founding new schools, and sponsoring the social sciences. The social sciences were conceived as a means toward producing intellectuals who were concerned with maintaining social control: with analyzing specific facets of the social order (politics, economics, sociology, etc) and then offering critiques and reforms to that system, with the objective of making it more secure, more permanent. Major philanthropic foundations were founded in the early 20th century, such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation, with the purpose of engaging in social engineering for social control. They became the primary financiers of social science research and university programs. This was stated quite explicitly by the President of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1933, who wrote that the Foundation’s policies:
were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Media and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control. Many procedures will be explicitly co-operative between [Foundation] divisions. The Medical and Natural Sciences will, through psychiatry and psychobiology, have a strong interest in the problems of mental disease.
These oligarchs controlled the banking institutions of the modern society, and in particular, the central banking system, responsible for printing the currencies, setting interest rates, and thus, controlling the finances of both industry and government. The mechanism of control was through debt. Through their control of banking and finance, this small group of oligarchs were able to influence, of not control, the corporate world and the governmental world, allowing for domination of the economic and political spheres of life. However, it was through the production of knowledge itself that they came to dominate the social world. This was – and remains – the primary objective and activity of foundations and their offspring organizations. This required continued control of universities, maintenance of foundation-funded social engineering (what is commonly called “philanthropy”), the creation and control of major think tanks (responsible for creating social cohesion between elites and organizing public and foreign policy), and domination of the media.
The production of knowledge was not undertaken with the benevolent desire of ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake,’ but rather with a very clear purpose, as stated in the above-mentioned Rockefeller Foundation quote: control. Those who rule over society, whomever they are, and in whatever era they exist, understand very clearly the power and purpose of knowledge. After all, they have the power because they have the knowledge of what power is and how to attain it. An educated population – one which is capable of reading and writing and developing basic skills and techniques – has been a very important component of a modern, industrial society. It has contributed to the development of what we can call the modern ‘Technocratic’ society, built by the growth of science, technology, communication and information. There is, however, a problem for the ruling class, one which must be watched very closely: while it is important to provide a minimum of education, skills and expertise, it is important to maintain the overall control of consciousness and thought. It is one thing to provide an individual with the ability to understand specific sectors of society and to advance, reform, evolve and change those sectors, to update and evolve, to advance and progress; it is quite another thing, however, to allow an individual to develop the thinking capacity to reflect and understand the wider world in which he or she lives, to question the very nature and composition of society, to reflect on the purpose of humanity and the social order upon which it depends. This type of reflection is and has always been deeply dangerous to any ruling groups through history, and today is no exception.
Just think of the individual capacity of the human mind to obtain and retain masses of information. Think of the average high school girl or high school boy, consuming so much information of entertainment, celebrities, sports, and pop culture: they can tell you every detail of every celebrity’s life, every sports team, player, and all the intricate details of interaction and interest. The sheer wealth of information is impressive to say the least. The unfortunate reality, however, is that it is useless information: it has no point or purpose in the lives of those who consume it. It doesn’t matter who Kim Kardashian is or who she is doing this week. Paris Hilton is an absurd emblem of a society that worships irrelevance. It is really of no personal significance whether or not “your” [insert sport here] team wins or loses a game, it’s just a game, and unless you are playing or know personally someone who is playing, it doesn’t actually impact your life in any meaningful way. These are cultural distractions designed to fill the minds of the masses with useless and insignificant information. The consumer society which was developed in the early 20th century was not simply a society built on the consumption of products and services, but of information. It served to distract the emerging middle class away from questions of social and human concern, and to possibilities of personal and financial progress, to ownership, to products, to a vision of ‘desire’ around which their life was designed to aspire. Humanoids like Paris Hilton – and I hesitate to call such a person an ‘individual’ – serve not only to ‘distract’, but to destroy. Through our worship of wealth, our reveling in irrelevance, we create the image of prosperity, of possibility, of potential and indeed, purpose. The Paris Hilton’s and Kim Car-crash-ian disasters of this world are a symbol of a society that gives priority and purpose to intellectually vacant, vapid, and vacuous entities. Worst of all, is that the youth look to these empty examples of existence as not simply worthy of entertainment, but emulation. Truly, such a state is symptomatic of a severely sick society.
Yet, something is changing. We can feel it in the air, hear it in the wind, taste it on our tongue, smell it in our sinus, and are beginning to experience it in our everyday existence. The Technological Revolution which has brought about this modern ‘Technocratic’ society, this highly-controlled and overly-dominated social order, has created its own antithesis, this thing we call ‘balance’. While technology has facilitated greater control over mankind, with new and scientifically-developed techniques of domination, it has also facilitated the rapid expansion of information and communication. This has allowed for more information than ever before to be consumed by more people than ever before in all of human history. And now, unlike ever before, people are able to communicate with each other, around the world, not through a lens of power – not through the media, the government, corporations, or other institutions – but as individuals, as equals, to listen, speak, and understand each other as individual human beings occupying the same small world, and though we may never meet in person, we exist together, and our struggle is the same.
It is easy to say that we are in unprecedented times. Within such times, unprecedented challenges emerge, challenges for both the people and the powerful. So while we are faced with an elite – increasingly globally interconnected and intertwined – who are armed with more techniques of control and domination than have ever-before been imagined, the elite are faced with an increasingly unprecedented challenge, where the dominated peoples of the world are able to see and speak to one another as individuals, not simply observe as outsiders, where we have access to and the ability to analyze and disseminate more information than ever before. Even the major philanthropic foundations, who have long funded ‘alternative’ media as a means to provide an outlet for moderated dissent, are incapable of controlling the new production of knowledge that is taking place, which is informing individuals and activists around the world. This new ‘independent media’ is largely dependent upon the readers and direct ‘consumers’ of the information itself, not higher ‘sponsors’ and patrons.
I am a member of this ‘independent media,’ as a researcher, writer, and at times, a journalist. I engage in ‘production of knowledge’ much like a foundation-sponsored academic would, though I do so with a distinctly different purpose: not to control for the benefit of entrenched power, but to liberate by means of empowering people with information. For this, I have been accused of being a “propagandist” and “biased,” while the major intellectuals, media pundits, journalists and academics of our institutionally-dominated world declare themselves “neutral,” “unbiased,” “dispassionate,” and “disinterested observers.” I make no reservations about my bias, about by non-neutrality, I do not hold back my passion and I am very interested, and not simply an observer, but at times a participant. I see no value in declaring a lack of passion or a neutral position in situations of domination and oppression, of exploitation and obfuscation. If I am a propagandist, I am a propagandist for the people, not the powerful, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The unfortunate reality of being very independent, with no university, foundation, corporate, or institutional ties of any kind, is that my ability to continue being independent, my ability to continue researching, writing, and disseminating information, is dependent upon the people who ‘consume’ that information itself. My funds are entirely derived of donations from readers and supporters around the world, and so I ask you now that if you so desire, to please support my efforts to continue being a loud-mouthed, annoying, frustrating pest of a person for those in power who think they control everything and everyone without a word of dissent from us plebs and proles below. I truly wish I could provide all my research and writing entirely free, and there are few things that bother me more than asking for money, but unfortunately, I do need to eat and pay rent. So I am asking now for your financial support toward my journalistic endeavours (note: this is separate from The People’s Book Project, which will be getting a big update quite soon).
In the past two months, I have been almost exclusively researching, writing, and speaking about the Quebec Student Movement, the Maple Spring, and to be honest, I have never been so busy or received so much support and encouragement from readers. So now I ask, if possible, to please make a donation of any amount (every bit helps, truly!), so that I can continue trying my best to be the most infuriating individual to those in power that I can be!
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”! … Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”!
Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
For the past month, I have been writing almost exclusively on the Québec student strike and social movement, which erupted in February and has resulted in the provincial government of Québec recently passing a law (Bill 78) which severely limits the rights of students to freedom of assembly and expression, imposing harsh financial penalties for practicing our basic rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (as if we even need a document to tell us we have these rights!).
I have been writing professionally for roughly four years, and on a wide range of topics, many of them far more controversial than a student strike. However, never before have I experienced such an enormous reaction – both positive and negative – to any issue I have ever written about. My articles are reaching more people – and more varied audiences – than ever before, but they are also inciting more reactions and responses than I have ever been faced with. I always try to respond to comments and emails, but if I were to do so on this issue, I would never get around to writing anything new. So instead, I would like to address the main critique and complaint of my writing on this issue: that I am – and my writing is – extremely “biased” in how I report on this issue.
First off, I would like to thank all who have sent me words of encouragement and support, and who have been sharing and re-posting my articles, it is very important that this information spreads elsewhere, as the English-speaking media in Canada have been almost exclusively terrible in their coverage of the student protests here in Québec. Secondly, I would like to thank all those who have sent me critiques, who have pointed out flaws and problems in various points and arguments I have made, and in doing so, have provided further avenues for research. Without critique, no researcher can make progress. There are a number of issues related to the student movement that I know I will need to do more research on, and it is entirely due to these critiques that I will do so. So keep on keeping me on my toes!
I would, however, like to address the most common ‘critique’ and complaint about my writing and my point of view: that it is “biased.” My simple response to this is: you’re god damned right it is!
We all have bias by the very simple fact that we are all biased to our own opinions, so long as we are capable of developing our own individual opinions and beliefs. We are all biased for the simple fact that we view ourselves and the world from our own individual perspective. When anyone or any information source claims to be “unbiased,” that is when my internal alarm begins to ring. There are, arguably, unbiased ‘facts’ (as Einstein once said, “facts are stubborn things”), but there are not unbiased ‘views.’ Facts can help inform our views, and what facts we gather, how we gather them, from where we gather them, largely determine the ‘view’ we take in constructing them together.
So yes, I have a bias, but let me explain what it is. I am biased in favour of people over power, in favour of the oppressed over the oppressors, and in favour of freedom over domination. I am, however, a researcher. I don’t have many talents: I can barely cook, I don’t speak more than one language, I don’t play sports, I don’t play an instrument, I can’t even whistle; but one thing I am good at, is research. I know where to look, how to look, to draw from a multitude of sources, and to put together a massive array of information into something that is at least a half-coherent composition of information. Like all talents, it’s practice that makes it better, and I am still learning and improving (as I should be). My writing is almost always heavily cited and sourced, so that people may track my research and where I got my information from, instead of just “taking my word” for it. The only reason I progressed as a researcher is because I would try to find the original sources of others, to see the information for myself and to see how and if I would interpret it differently from them. I have even spent hours tracking down original sources in government archives which were cited by Noam Chomsky, not because I think he is lying or misrepresenting the facts, but because it is simply important for me to see the original source for myself. I encourage others to do the same, so I always try to make my writing accessible to this approach. Despite this, I have received many critiques that I have not “supported my arguments” in my recent articles on Quebec. This, I simply cannot understand, save for the possibility that those making the critique do not know what hyperlinks are or how they work (I don’t just highlight the words for fun!).
But back to the bias!
My research in history, on a number of different social, political, economic and cultural issues, has not been defined by my bias, but has rather defined my bias. It is precisely the research and reading and studying I have done that has established, informed, and strengthened my own personal bias. That is not to say it is unchanging: with each new subject studied, with new information gathered, I must adjust, evolve, and alter my views according to the knowledge I come across. And yet still, I find this central bias remains: that of favouring the oppressed over the oppressor. It is this view that shapes my own understanding of history and the present, and for that reason, this has become my own ‘Truth’: how I see and understand the world.
I do not pretend to be unbiased, or balanced, or neutral in my writing, simply because I do not see the value in doing so. I see no value or honour in presenting oneself as ‘balanced’ in reporting on circumstances which are so imbalanced. I see no value in being ‘neutral’ in writing about circumstances of injustice, oppression, and domination. I see no justice in presenting an ‘unbiased’ view of injustice. Why should the oppressor get “equality” in how situations are interpreted and presented when the oppressed never have equality of power with the oppressor? How is this “balanced”? Situations which are inherently imbalanced do not require black and white interpretations, do not require an equal presentation for the oppressed view as well as the oppressor’s view. One does not give “both sides of the argument” on the issue of war and mass murder, on the issue of slavery, on the issue of domination and oppression. The simple reason for this is that it is morally reprehensible to put the perspective of injustice and oppression on the same moral grounding as that of the dominated and oppressed. A more “logical” reason, perhaps, is that because of the simple social position of the oppressor – always in positions of power – is that they already have a larger share of control over the discourse: they speak for the state, providing the “official” line; they control the media, they have a monopoly of interpretation and control over dissemination.
This creates an automatic imbalance in how things are interpreted and presented. Rarely are there cries against this information-Casino system (where the house always wins), proclaiming it to be “biased” or “imbalanced.” Instead, publications like the National Post and the Globe and Mail may say anything they like, any way they like, and they are simply “reporting the facts.” Across Canada, newspapers may refer to the students in Québec as “violent,” “thugs,” “spoiled brats,” wannabe terrorists,” and “idiots,” and yet, where is the outcry against their “bias” and lack of “balance.” The media, almost without fail, make reference to official statements from the police regarding protests and “riots”, without providing any other perspective or statements. You read this in the media as, “a police spokesperson said…”, etc. How often do you read, “participants in the protest stated…” etc.? Is that not a lack of balance?
Gary Lamphier writing for the Edmonton Journal referred to the students, in the span of one article alone, as the following: “gangs of kids, buffoons, wannabe terrorists, idiots, miscreants, sanctimonious jerks, selfish, loutish, moronic,” and lastly, “rock-throwing idiots in Quebec.” This is, of course, compared to the “hard-working students and citizens” whose lives are being disrupted by “a cancer.” Perhaps the most common term used to describe the students in Quebec is “entitled.” Of course, this type of elevated intellectual discourse is perfectly acceptable in the mainstream media. When some protesters entered UQAM school and disrupted classes, with one report of even attempting to pull two students out of the class, the media reaction was swift, furious, and international. These are not tactics I particularly favour or condone; it certainly doesn’t help the image of the student movement and I think there are more effective avenues for engagement and action. However, the reporting on this incident was almost exclusively in a chorus of condemnation. The students who occupied and disrupted the school were called: “protest gangs“, “hard-core protesters,” and “thugs.”
Now, the tactics may not have been good or helpful, but perhaps a little context would be important: for three months of striking, the government spent two months ignoring and dismissing and refusing to talk to the students, then it attempted to divide the students against each other. The state has intervened to provide legal injunctions to even small groups of students in an effort to use them as “strike breakers” by legally enforcing their return to the schools (as the state does not recognize the legal right of students to strike), and it has been enforcing that with the blunt force of the baton, the sting of pepper spray, and the taste of tear gas. The state has repeatedly used violence against protesters: pepper spray, beatings with batons, tear gas, smoke bombs, concussion grenades, driving police trucks and cars into groups of students, shooting them in the face with rubber bullets, and undertaking mass arrests. One student lost his vision in one eye after being shot in the face with a concussion grenade, another lost his eye after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet, and another ended up in the hospital with a skull fracture and brain contusion, also after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet. When a few students threw smoke bombs in the Montreal Metro, they were charged on “anti-terrorism” charges, and the national media loudly condemned them. Again, the tactics were not helpful, but this also followed the Victoriaville violence against students, where several were almost killed (which did not get anywhere near the same national and international media coverage). Violent actions create increasingly violent reactions. While throwing smoke bombs in the metro is a bad tactic, police shoot smoke bombs at students on a regular basis, but the students are “terrorists” and the police are “restoring order.” All this context does not exist in the media discourse.
And now, with the passage of Bill 78, which is “unconstitutional,” as it puts severe limits on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and imposes immense financial penalties for exercising our rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter and Rights and Freedoms, the situation has become more intense, the risks are greater, and the state is all the more oppressive.
In short, the situation which exists between the students and the state in Québec is inherently imbalanced. I see no value in presenting a “balanced” argument about a circumstance in which no balance exists. I see no value in presenting oneself as “neutral” in situations of oppression, exploitation, and domination. The perspective of the state is given by the state and its spokespeople, is repeated in the media, and backed up with the economic power of the corporations and banks (who own the media). It’s always easy for power to speak in support of power. Nothing is demanded of them, except for allegiance. They are held up to low standards, require little to no proof, and can even openly call for violence to be used against students, and it all goes unquestioned, their views are “facts” and their “bias” is overlooked.
I may use harsh rhetoric, but I back it up with hard facts. I may write that the National Post knows nothing of democracy, but that is because I have never seen that publication support any grassroots, indigenous, or social movement for democratic progress: I have seen that publication support war, justify empire, encourage violence, condone oppression and demonize progression. Respect must be earned, and I have never read anything worthy of respect out of that publication, worthy of the values and ideals I hold dear. So yes, I do not restrain my rhetoric in describing it. Is it inflammatory? Perhaps. But I believe it to be the truth, at least as I see it.
What we, here in Québec, see and experience in the streets is a world away from what we read in the English media across the country. The disparity is so vast, the misrepresentation is so consistent, the rhetoric is entirely dismissive, insulting, and even hateful, the discourse is vitriolic and ill-informed, the lies are expansive, and the presentation is perverted. So am I biased? Absolutely! I will always stand with the people against the violence of the state, against the lies and misrepresentations of the media, and the abuses of authority. What others call neutrality, I call cowardice. I do not pretend to be or present myself as an unbiased or “dispassionate” observer. I have marched in the streets, I have friends far more involved at every level of the protests than I have been, I know people who have been arrested, attacked, and gassed; I marched in peace with peaceful friends, and we were charged by riot cops. I watched as the police threw students face first into the pavement and ran out of the way as the riot police drove their van through a crowd of students. I listen to more intense and infuriating stories from friends and others. We see the images and hear the stories and watch the videos of those who have been seriously injured. We are pepper sprayed, gassed, beaten and bruised, and then to add… we are insulted and degraded by the national media. We are referred to as “spoiled brats” and “entitled” fools.
Am I biased? You’re damn right I am!
Solidarity, brothers and sisters!
For a “biased” view of the student movement, here is list of my articles on the subject:
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.